Is there a feeling better than hearing a beep on your phone with a text message from the one that’s crushing on you as much as you’re crushing on them? Well, probably not but man this game comes pretty close  ^^;

Last Fall one of my favorite Facebook geek-girl groups started posting about some app that was taking over their lives. Every day for over a month someone new shared that they had “given in”, downloaded it, and could not stop playing. Now, this group is primarily (but not exclusively) comprised of lady nerds of color so when they are posting positively about an addictive Korean dating sim app, my ears perk up. 

Mystic Messenger is one of the most popular titles in the otome world right now. For the uninitiated, otome is a story-driven genre of video games targeted at females that is usually romantic in nature [end learning module]. Most are about developing a relationship with one of the other characters. This is my first foray into the genre and if there are any more titles like this one, it will not be the last.

Side effect: This game has caused my rate of swerving guys IRL to go up at a statistically significant rate #SorryNotSorry

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Swervitude on the rise

But I am not alone in my personal tastes and habits being swayed by the media! It’s no secret that unrealistic representations of female bodies and behaviors have had an impact on the way men interact with women. In video games, this includes the reality that female characters tend to be drawn and dressed in a way that is…ahem…not conducive to battle. And their scripts and limited storylines tend to relegate them to being background dressing there to lift up or fawn over the main character. Even digitally developed girls are masters of emotional labor. We’re even starting to see the reverse, with boys becoming increasingly influenced by cultural expectations for “dream guy physiques”.

And here is a bit of a sticking point for the game: being good at your stereotyped cultural role of “manager of emotions of others” (namely, the other characters in the game who are almost exclusively male) is what makes you successful. In fact, if you fail at emotional support you will get one of their infamous “bad endings” which range from being kidnapped to blown up to…well, play for yourself.

Well, depending on what ending I’m trying to get you can trust me….

While in real life this work can cause you to exhaust yourself feeding their needs with no return of effort, this nifty little ego-stroker of a game gives you 4 guys that are basically hanging off of your every word and endlessly thankful for your inclusion in their lives. And they are incredibly, stupidly petty about fighting to receive that attention from you and will cock-block the $#!^ out of each other at every turn.

Cheritz, the South Korean company responsible for MM,  has given us every trope* (and hair color): clueless but cute young blond gamer, romantic but narcissistic silver haired hottie,  a red-headed mysterious hacker extraordinaire playing the “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside” role, and a cold but intriguing raven haired “trust fund kid”.

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Choose your flavor!

*Sorry! This game isn’t quite progressive enough to let you sweep Jaehee, the female character, off her feet. But she’ll become a good friend and has a playable route that reminds you how much ladies should continue to lift up and support each other.

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Besides the chatrooms where you all interact together with anywhere from one to all members popping in, this game’s immersive real-time format has you exchanging text messages, receiving selfies, and getting actual phone calls from your 4 suitors all day. And even when you narrow down a particular character’s route to play, the others don’t just disappear or stop paying attention to you. They still text, call, and become your friends.

Repeat: The other 3 guys who are vying for your attention are happy to be your friend and cheer your new relationship when you pick their other friend.

Oh video games. Such a utopian ideal.

Even Square Enix has gotten into the mix, recently announcing the development of a smartphone game geared towards female users.

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Hopefully these 12 silhouettes of men are princes you have to fight for your honor or something else Square Enix-y. But this better not be part of why Kingdom Hearts 3 is taking so long…

Oh yeah, back to my IRL swerving. It is not as if I am turning down drinks at the bar because I’d rather be fake chatting with 707 (well, not all the time) but I am more and more conscious of the effort or lack thereof placed in the courtship dance these days. This makes me look at “hey let’s chill” suggestions as 100% friend dates because I’m being reminded by this game that clear intentions and declarations of interest are awesome. Guessing and wondering? Please miss me with that uncertainty.

Ask someone on a date or ask them to “hang out” and accept that it may be interpreted as “just friends”. There is no try, only do. And for the love of conversation hearts, do not accept someone’s strangely passive-aggressive behavior if it is clear they have ulterior motives for your time together*.

*Unless you’re into that. Just do you, boo.

I call upon the power of the moon for you to fail, spectacularly

Oh, I also really appreciate calls more! Due to the feature of the characters ringing you just to say hi, or because they saw something funny, or are being chauffeured to their penthouse and have a moment or two (damn it Jumin), I’ve been reminded of how nice it is to chat on the phone with someone rather than have all communication exist solely in text messages or in person. I’m a long-distance relationship veteran, and the sound of someone’s voice laughing at your off-the-cuff joke or even talking about something as banal as the merits of different cell phone plans seems to be a forgotten joy. I remember staying up chatting all might until the battery in the cordless died. Let’s get back to that.

But even as my standards inch higher with every chatroom and holiday release, there is a bonus to my flesh-and-blood suitors. This app means to satisfy something that is missing in the lives of the female gamer playing it. Whether it’s romantic gestures, cute texts, feeling needed, or even just feeling generally wanted, otome developers are trying to bring a bit of the fantasy to [digital] life. So when I play this game and start side-eyeing real guys, it is also easier to see the efforts of those who are making all the right moves. The ones that just call to check on me, text with an actual story to share (not a one word hey/yo/sup), stay in my life even if we’re not romantic; these are my MVPs. Or I guess MV-IRL-Ps. I remember someone posting on Facebook about how they wished there were guys like this in the world and I thought “wait, I totally know guys that send beautifully curated messages or call for 2 minutes just to hear their lady’s voice or *ahem* have my back in the group when there are circles under my eyes from an all-night game session!” and I feel blessed to know them. Talking with other gamers and playing Mystic Messenger, I’ve been reminded how special and unique this type of guy is, so much so that it seems like each one jumped off the page of a romantic novel. Or, errr, the Google Play store. I’ve gotta go on a “thank you for existing and being amazing” gratitude tour after this 😁😁😁

So what do you think about the otome craze? Is there another I should try playing after this (DO NOT MENTION THE HORSE ONE OMG)? Has it affected how you look at guys? Leave a comment and get entered into a raffle to win one of these awesome shirts by the guys at Kobra Kawaii. Winner will be announced on the 24th, entries close on the 23rd.

 

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